Drug Commercials Must Educate While Building Brand

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While DRTV commercials for pharmaceuticals are intended to raise awareness for a brand of drug, drug marketers also see a need to educate patients and encourage them to continue taking prescriptions.

Marketers have found many patients do not receive enough information about a prescription and will discontinue taking it if they experience uncomfortable side effects.

"Doctors are not prepared to talk to patients about these medications," said Bruce Hautman, a direct-to-consumer consultant and former product manager for Pharmacia & Upjohn, "and they don't have time to spend with patients the way they used to."

According to a Harris survey published last year, 61 percent of primary care physicians believe current medical education does not train them to communicate effectively with patients.

Drug companies see that finding as a clear indication that they must pick up the slack and educate consumers on dosages, side effects and other results of taking the prescription.

One purpose of these so-called compliance programs is to create customer loyalty and satisfaction, which is difficult for drugs that treat a chronic condition over a long period of time, including hypertension, diabetes and asthma.

"The longer a patient has to use a drug, the greater the compliance problem," Hautman said.

He said determining the necessity of a compliance program for a DTC campaign depends on the frequency of drug use and how long the product must be taken, plus how complicated it is to apply the drug.

"Consumers rarely think of themselves as patients," said Robert Ehrlich, senior director of DTC communications at Parke-Davis, a division of Warner Lambert based in Morris Plains, NJ. "Also, consumers don't think of themselves as sick people, so DTC advertising should be directed to healthy consumers who have a particular condition."

Hautman's experience in marketing the baldness cure Rogaine demonstrated that the product needed a compliance program to inform users that it would not encourage hair growth in bald spots, but would prevent further hair loss. In addition, it takes six months to a year to see results.

"Rogaine was the ultimate compliance nightmare," Hautman said. "Doctors have said to us that they don't understand why this is a prescription. In addition, managed care organizations do not cover Rogaine in their prescription plans, so at $50 to $60 a pop, many people stopped using it because they did not see results immediately and it is so expensive."

Pharmacia & Upjohn identified and categorized users of Rogaine by demographic characteristics and determined what motivating them to take Rogaine or discontinue using it.

The most loyal customers were between ages 30 and 35 and lived in urban areas where looks were considered important. Those who stopped using it lived in rural areas where looks were not as important, were older than 35 and accepted hair loss as a part of aging.

As part of the compliance solution, a mailing was sent out. The mailing explained the importance of following the application instructions and the time needed to achieve results. It asked users for their patience and offered cash incentives.

A call center was set up to explain the importance of following the directions on the package and explained the time it would take for results to be seen.

"Since consumers call the company before they call the doctor, a call center is extremely important to compliance programs," said Hautman. "The call center should have autonomy, in the case of Rogaine, whenever an agent received a complaint call they had carte blanche to send a coupon, without having to wait for upper management, this saved time and increased customer loyalty."

The company asked for input from managed care organizations so they would be more receptive to DTC marketing and advertising.

"The managed care industry is usually unhappy that we are driving more consumers to doctors and that they are requesting branded products," Hautman said, "but we involved them [managed care] in the process so they would feel better about DTC advertising. We would pay for a compliance program, instead of them, and we would direct consumers to call us, not them, after seeing a doctor."

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